The last of the Carling Cup quarterfinal fixtures were completed yesterday and surprisingly, Crystal Palace advanced to the next stage. Which leaves Manchester City, Liverpool and Cardiff as the other teams capable of winning this competition. The draw sees the Premier League sides face off against each other and whoever comes out victorious from that clash will probably win this cup.
I can’t help but think that had we beaten City, we would have a great chance of winning this competition. I’m not discounting Liverpool or calling them a one-man team but they are likely to be without the services of Lucas Leiva during those semifinal matches and that is a huge blow to them. That said, we also had an even easier draw last season but failed to capitalise on that.
However, there can be many positives that can be taken from the performance in this season’s Carling Cup of those back-ups, rotation, reserves, young guns or whatever you would like to categorise them as. Just like those before them, there’s a new batch of pretenders who looks ready to stake a claim for first team places. They will be going the same route taken by Robin Van Persie, Kieran Gibbs, Alex Song, Johan Djourou and many others.
Captain for the night, Yossi Benayoun was full of praise for at least the two he played alongside in midfield. They are of course Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin. Both held their own against more experienced opponents in the City line-up and were in fact, crucial to us controlling the midfield and in essence having more possession of the ball in that match.
Typically, one can classify both of them as defensive midfielders but looking closer, they are actually different than similar. In fact, it is not too dissimilar to what we saw at Arsenal previously. One that won the league and cup double, mind you. Remember Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit? I’m not saying that these young pretenders are at the same level or have shown the necessary qualities to reach the level of the legendary duo but the signs are there.
Arsene Wenger said this game was a learning experience for the players. An chance for the players to play against teams of higher stature, if not of higher quality than them. A chance for them to learn from the mistakes and not forgetting an opportunity for these players to know that they have the quality and ability to rub shoulders with better players, and even match them.
From the player’s perspective, the experience would’ve done them a world of good. You can only learn so much from training and playing in the reserves or friendly matches. There’s perhaps more you can pick up by training with groups of players who are better than where your current standard is. However, all that pales in comparison with the knowledge that can be picked up playing in a full competitive match.
That said, the learning experience might not only be on the part of the players. I sincerely believe that there’s something for the manager to learn as well. Wenger would surely have picked up how his 2 young midfielders were winning the midfield battle against the experienced trio of $amir Na$ri, Nigel De Jong and Owen Hargreaves. Tiredness perhaps creeping in the last 15 – 20 minutes of the game but Frimpong and Coquelin were exceptional in every aspect before that.
Wenger would also have learned that a 2 man midfield could possibly match a 3 man version. I think that is part of the reason why he is reluctant to change back to a 2 striker system, because it meant that he would lose width and that his midfield would be overrun. However, on the evidence of Tuesday night, things could be different if there’s a working partnership.
Frimpong and Coquelin has differing values which compliments each other. The former a more robust, no nonsense sort of player. While the latter senses danger and reads the game impeccably for someone his age. As they have been trained in the Arsenal ways, both are equipped with considerable ability when on the ball.
If there could be any like for like match in the current first team, it would be Frimpong-Song and Coquelin-Arteta. At the moment though, that comparison is only fair in the defensive sense. It would be fair to say that Jack Wilshere could also slot into a partnership with any of these two. It looks lightweight but if last season’s performance is any indication, Wilshere can certainly hold his own weight against bigger players.
Yet, to have 2 only players in the middle of the park and with teams generally lining up with at least 3 in midfield, it does mean that limitations will have to be put on the two. That they will have to stay discipline and not overcommit when attacking. The attacking/creativity will be much more focussed on the wide midfielders/wingers and the 2 front men.
For the first time in a few seasons, Alex Song may actually have competition for his spot. Luckily for us (may actually only be me), that decision/non-decision is entirely in the hands of Wenger. What is important now is for not only these two players but everyone else who is not playing regularly, to just keep working hard and focus on making that step up. Who said that? A wise head call Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.